Not buying things can be difficult, even when you're determined not to.
For the last several years, some people have been attempting a no-buy year. Instead of buying new things, they use what they already have. If you've never tried it, clothing and makeup are a great place to start.
For many people, a no-buy year is simply a way of life because their financial situation leaves them no other choice. But for others — myself included — we have enough clothes, shoes, makeup, electronic devices, books, knickknacks, kitchen gadgets ... enough stuff ... for all our needs. Yet, we continue to buy.
The purchase of a just-the-right-shade-of-pink lipstick can be hard to resist. That one tube isn't expensive — but then you find all the other lipsticks you bought. (Photo: DenisProduction.com/Shutterstock)
I try to absolve myself by saying so much of what I buy is pre-owned. But it only takes one viewing of "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" to know many us have few things that truly "spark joy," so it doesn't even matter how an item ended up in the house.
Perhaps a no-buy year, or some variation on the theme, is in order.
First step: Identify why you want to try it
If you're going to try a no-buy year or a month or some variation of the theme, the first step is identifying why you're doing it.
Is it to save money? Pay off debt? Have more money for experiences? Stop the crazy accumulation of stuff? To be more sustainable? A combination of several of these?
Without a goal, failure is likely. I say this based on past experience.
Last year, I wanted to take my sons on vacation to somewhere we'd never been before where we could relax and spend a lot of time outdoors — a vacation where I could not only afford the rental and activities but also have enough flexibility with my money that I could take them out to eat at good restaurants. So I set a goal. That goal was to not buy anything I didn't need for three months prior to the vacation. A month before we went, I realized I needed to do more. I decided that I wouldn't spend money going out socially: no girls' nights out, no movies, no Saturday morning coffee rendezvous. I eventually reached my goal.
Could no-buy be your new normal?
After vacation, I went back to my regular spending habits. But as I think about the no-buy movement, I wonder what would have happened if I'd maintained the stricter habits. There are many experiences I would love to have — concerts and music festivals are at the top of the list. Yet, I often don't buy tickets to concerts. Instead, I frequently buy little things — like $20 shoes. If I could forgo those little things, I would probably go to a lot more concerts.
I think the no-buy movement is something that would bring many of us some happiness. Still, it's difficult. Even though we're surrounded by things, we manage to convince ourselves that none of those things are the "perfect" thing for our immediate need.
I'm going to set another goal right now. That goal is to go to a big music festival at the end of the summer. To get there, I'll need to refrain from spending money on the things I don't need. I'm going to commit to not buying any new clothes or shoes between now and then. We'll see how it goes. I may need to commit in a few months to not buying some other things to make sure I get to the festival.
I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what your goals are and how buying nothing — or at least buying a lot less — can help you reach them.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was published in January 2019.